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Healing, not ready to go it alone

Maria Rojas is in limbo.

The 26-year-old mother of two is one of the last to sleep at the Red Cross hurricane shelter at Pahokee's recreation center.

Eleven days after Hurricane Frances, her family's mobile home still did not have power. She feared her entire mobile home park may be condemned. And the shelter, her only air-conditioned sanctuary for her 7-month-old and 4-year-old, may be closing soon.

"We may have to leave here," she sighed.

From poor Pahokee to affluent Palm Beach, nearly every Palm Beach County resident was affected by Frances. Because the storm lumbered through at 4 or 5 mph, it seemed as if the entire county was battered by high winds for 24 hours or more.

About 10,000 residents in Palm Beach still were without power Friday _ two weeks after Frances. More than 240 people were still in shelters.

Yet some Palm Beach emergency officials have been forced to shift their attention from the recovery effort. One went to Tallahassee to work at the state emergency operations center for Hurricane Ivan, and others said they were preparing for Hurricane Jeanne.

But reminders of Frances are everywhere. Blue tarps are still draped on roofs in Royal Palm Beach. Power lines sag in Wellington. A 10-foot-high pile of brush sits near Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

"I don't think there is a most devastated area of Palm Beach County," said Bill O'Brien, the county's emergency operations director. "Initially, the forecast looked like only the northern part of the county would be impacted with winds. But the whole county was subjected to the same kind of treatment."

Some Palm Beach officials are worried that federal officials and insurance adjusters will abandon the county to focus on the recovery efforts for Hurricanes Charley and Ivan.

"We're already thin on resources," Pahokee Fire Chief Gary Burroughs said as he wondered about the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "FEMA does not have enough staff to staff the disaster recovery areas."

FEMA closed its special care unit at the Palm Beach County fairgrounds last week.

"That's a concern," said Sharon Green, 50, of The Acreage, an unincorporated part of Palm Beach County.

She and her husband and their 11-year-old special needs son lived in their home without power, water or sewer for 10 days. They still don't have phone service. She said a FEMA official's only advice to her was to buy a generator and then apply for help.

"We couldn't even find a generator," she said.

Because the family's septic tank and well need electricity, the family could not perform the most routine tasks. They showered and washed clothes at friends' homes. They flushed toilets with water from their pond until they accidentally scooped up fish inside the buckets.

"It was worse than camping," Green said.

They fled to Orlando for a few days, then hoped electricity had been restored and returned home. Instead, they burned candles and napped for a few minutes each day in their air-conditioned cars.

"I guess we have to be grateful," she said. "We still have a roof."

Count Donald Moss of Pahokee among the roof-less.

He and five members of his family, along with the local Baptist preacher, huddled in his house during Frances.

The backside of his roof was so torn up that he thinks it will take a year or more to move back inside. The entire house is damp and foul-smelling, and his wife had to drive to Tampa just to find 300 large plastic bins for storage.

Moss, who owns a trucking company, stowed his family's salvageable possessions in two 53-foot trucks. They are sitting on his front lawn. He can't even estimate how much it will cost to repair, rebuild and renew.

"We're not a poor family," he said, shaking his head. "What do people do who don't have the financial resources to get back on their feet?"

Blocks from famous Worth Avenue in downtown Palm Beach, workers at the Temple Emanu-El frantically repaired water damage from a soggy ceiling and tried to dry out hallway carpets _ just hours before the Rosh Hashana service.

Before the storm, the temple's 10 handwritten Torahs were placed in a bank vault. They were not damaged, but the library _ the third largest Jewish library in the state _ was waterlogged.

Moshe Tutnauer, the temple's new, interim rabbi, takes the hurricane damage in stride. He came to Palm Beach from Jerusalem a week ago and spent the days before his departure watching two things on Israeli television: the school massacre in Russia and Hurricane Frances in Florida.

He wove both events into the text of his Rosh Hashana sermon.

Rosh Hashana _ the Jewish New Year _ is not a celebration, he said. Instead, it is a time of contemplation, a time when "one is very sensitive to the crises of life."

He reminded the temple's 600 members that while they may have been without power for a week and trees may be down in their yards, there are more tragic events happening in the world.

"While people have undergone major inconveniences, for the most part, it has not been a major tragedy," Tutnauer said. "One has to put these kinds of things in perspective."

Tamara Lush can be reached at (727) 893-8612 or at

Palm Beach County


Population: 1,242,426

Customers still without power: 10,000

Residents in shelters: 240

Deaths: 3

Mike Ferranolo, 14, takes a shot Thursday near a damaged screen enclosure at Wellington Golf & County Club in Wellington. The club, in central Palm Beach County, reopened Tuesday. "All the members were just dying to get back out (to golf)," owner Judy Bartoletti said.

Maria Rojas, holds her 7-month-old, Meliana Soriano, standing near her daughter Adalia Soriano, 4, in a trailer park in Pahokee on Wednesday. Their damaged trailer home still lacks power, and a neighbor's roof slants in front of them. Maria said that her family longed to help other migrant and agricultural workers of Hurricane Charley, "then two weeks later, it happened to us."